The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn said of Antone's,
"The best music I've ever heard was at Antone's, and
some of the best music I've ever played was there."
Mention the blues to anyone who knows anything about them
(musically) and the name Clifford Antone will surely arise.
Armed with a passion for that genre, he created the legendary
Austin nightclub in 1975 and featured performers like Clifton
Chenier, Sunnyland Slim, B.B. King, Fats Domino, John Lee
Hooker and Muddy Waters, just to name a few.
Clifford's first house band was The Fabulous Thunderbirds
who had a multi-platinum album in 1985, Tuff Enuff,
and started those magical Monday nights. During those days,
the joint was jumping, but when Clifford moved Antone's to
a north location a few years later to accommodate the club's
growing popularity, suddenly that popularity waned. The venue
could still hold such acts as Asleep at the Wheel, Jerry Lee
Lewis, and Ray Charles; nevertheless, 6th Street's burgeoning
club scene tempted the crowds to stay downtown. Antone's doors
closed in the late 70s sending the Blue Monday crowd to The
Rome Inn where Clifford's influence reigned and party night
In the early 80's, The Rome Inn closed, and Antone's reopened
closer to its original home reviving the Monday night blues
party tradition and packing the club with the best of the
blues musicians and the eager fans that followed.
Recalls Derek O'Brien, a Blue Monday House Band regular guitarist
for almost all of Antone's 25 years, "George Rains on
drums, Sarah Brown on bass, Denny Freeman on guitar, Mel Brown
on organ, me - and usually Kim Wilson. Larry Fulcher, Charlie
Sexton, Ian Moore, Mike Buck, Kaz Kazanoff, Jon Blondell,
Angela Strehli, Frosty, and dozens of others have played off
and on throughout the years. Kim and Stevie especially just
loved to play and would play all night. The music held everyone
together... because it sure wasn't the money."
While the musicians are important, Derek O'Brien wants one
thing made clear: "There's no way to really discuss the
Monday night blues party without bringing Clifford Antone
into the picture. He always gave younger players the chance
to play with the authentic bluesmen, and that's the greatest
Legend has it that Clifford holds an innate sense of when
an unknown talent is ready to play with the pros, so he's
the one to give them their big break. For instance, it was
Clifford who suggested to Albert King that he should give
Stevie Ray a chance to play guitar with him on stage, thus
helping to make history.
Countless other historical moments have followed, some of
whose recordings we can hear on Antone's Records started in
1987. Clifford wanted a record label "specializing in
blues and root music to make available to the world the performances
recorded at the nightclub."
Thus it isn't any wonder that Clifford Antone is the recipient
of The National Blues Foundation "Lifetime Achievement
Award" for his contributions to the genre or that USA
Today labeled Antone's as "the nation's best blues
Unfortunately, Antone's is now managed by Brad First while
Clifford serves out a federal sentence for racketeering and
one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. When asked
about these matters, Clifford responds, "Ask me about
music - nothing else matters."
One thing is for sure though: Clifford's presence in the
club is missed
and so is Stevie Ray Vaughn's.
Antone's jail sentence, Stevie's death, and Jimmie Vaughn's
departure from The Fabulous Thunderbirds have basically ended
the golden era for Antone's, but the legends created at that
club are still very much alive. If not in tangible form, then
certainly in the souls of those who heard the music, for there
are moments in our history when greatness clusters and forms
a star, and we hold those moments close because, like those
of the astronomical kind, we know that all stars must eventually
and unfortunately burn themselves right out.